Is Public Education in New Orleans Being Rebuilt? by Ruthie Dreyer

Day 5, NOLA
To say the public education system in New Orleans is being rebuilt is mis- leading. The public education system in New Orleans is being dismantled. Pre-Katrina existed a centralized public school system that was run by the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB). Katrina was the catalyst for the beginning of the privatization of public education. Hurricane Katrina wiped out the previous system of public education and the State of Louisiana employed the Recovery School District to begin the take-over of public schools. This new experiment, the charter school movement, is an ugly, double-sided coin. Instead of being controlled by the OPSB and schools running on only state-given money, charter schools run under individual charter school boards that in addition to receiving public money get private money from private investors.

The pro-charter argument is that charter schools can offer autonomy for schools, choice for parents and then the most alluring benefit: better resources and space. I was shocked at the abundance of promethium boards and computers and the luxuriousness of some of the spaces we saw like the Medard Nelson School, New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and Benjamin Franklin. Of course, books are a critical part of learning and children deserve to learn in pleasant environment with functioning bathrooms and plentiful libraries. But the resources were but a symptom of the larger sickness of the school system. The lack of resources in the previous pubic school system was a symptom of racism and neglect. Unfortunately racism and neglect still exist but our schools are looking much better three-dimensionally.

The most disturbing part of the privati- zation of the public school system is that the only two people who are actually in classrooms, teachers and students, have had absolutely no agency in this charter school movement. There are many engaging, intelligent, optimistic conversations happening about the future of public schools but none of them have included the people who actually give and receive education. The people are running schools and making decisions have little understanding about the practice of learning. It will be interesting to see how the theory of no-excuses, data-driven education fares in practice and if this five year experiment will result in whole citizens or very confused, neglected children.


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